The Four Most Important Things Every Foster Family Needs To Know- Lessons From The Fostering Front

We recently took in and subsequently gave up two foster sons, all in the space of about 5 weeks. We loved a lot, we cried a lot, we prayed a lot, and boy did we learn a lot! Despite all the trainings and certifications, I wished that a few of these hard-won lessons had been told to us beforehand. As Gabe and I have reflected on everything over the last few weeks, as we’ve slowly brought our family back to normalcy (if there is such a thing), it occurred to me that getting what we learned out to the masses may not be a terrible idea. At the risk of being redundant, repetitive, too obvious, and re-inventing the wheel I’m going to assume that (like us) others may not have had these lessons taught to them anywhere in the vast fostering-world. So, without further ado, in no particular order, I give you my top four things you need to know but never have been told….

(To get a full-explanation of the entire situation, please read first blog of this set which sets the stage (and all the GodStuff that happened) for you.

It’s okay to say ‘no’.

Let me put it another way for those who don’t like to be negative- sometimes your best ‘yes’… is to say ‘no’. As most foster parents have no doubt discovered, there is no lack of calls to take kids. And despite the fact that we’d all take them all if possible- you need to hear from me (as I <clearly> speak for all authorities in this) that it is okay to say ‘no’ to some of these calls. I hate saying ‘no’, I know you do too. But I’ve come to find out that if my saying ‘yes’ robs someone else the opportunity to say ‘yes’ instead, if it disrupts my marriage, our family dynamic, my ongoing other ministries… then I’ve made the wrong call. Now don’t get me wrong, fostering at best will always be a <bit> of a disruption- children, whether bio or not, all tend to do that. Don’t misunderstand me… there will always be some stretching and adjustment that comes with each new placement. But if you’re already maxed- in time, energy, resources, bedrooms, carseats, finances, patience, etc. then ‘no’ may be a better and healthier Call. Kids need parents who have the time and energy to pour into them, love on them, lead and disciple them… an already stressed out mom or dad is not helping anyone. I’m giving you permission, here and now, to say ‘no’ if needed… and not feel terrible.

Discernment and prayer is key here as you seek God in who He wants in your house. Prayer is our go-to always for new placements. Sometimes He says ‘no’ to what would seem obvious great fits, other times He says ‘yes’ to the proverbial square-peg-in-a-round-hole placements. But let Him lead your decision-making, He won’t lead you astray.

You.Are.Not.Superman. It’s okay to ask for help.

I’m totally doing to pot and kettle thing here because I am the WORST at asking for help. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious pride thing or that it doesn’t even occur to me that I need it or maybe I’m just too freakishly busy to even have time to stop and ask… whatever the case may be- I’m sure some of you can relate. But I’m telling you right here and now that you not only will want help but you will have times when you need it (whether you want it or not.) Put away the cape and red undies and don’t try to be Superman- you’re not. Neither am I (hard as it is to admit!) So ASK .FOR. HELP. when necessary. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing assistance in this fostering world. No one on the planet, especially those who love you, are expecting you to do all of it on your own. That’s an impossible task and one that no one is up for. So plan on needing, wanting, begging for help at times.

For those of you who still need a push- think of it this way. There are many people who are not called to foster but still want to support those who do (by the way, send them this blog on ways to best help you) By ‘never needing help’ (insert eyeroll..) you’ve robbed them of an opportunity to serve you and the Lord. Throw these poor people a bone… and maybe some laundry or yardwork to do….

Sometimes your part to play is short and temporary- and that’s okay.

Some placements are long, some are short. The average length in care here in Missouri runs around 18 months. We’ve had our current for 10 months, the last two were about five weeks, the previous before that was less than 24 hours, and somewhere in there we were placed with one that after four days of preparation we never did get. It varies- and that’s okay. I used to get super frustrated with unpredictable length of time. I’m a planner and organizer and not knowing is generally irritating and at times downright infuriating (can I get an amen?) but I’ve learned that there is purpose and a plan in all of it. Don’t ever feel that your time with a child is not without value. You are an important link in their chain, no matter how small, and each second you spend loving on that kiddo will echo in their hearts and in eternity (for more on that, read part one of this blog here). Spend what precious moments you have in the best quality ways you can, and leave the quantity to the Lord. You just never know what He’s cooking up for these little ones!

If it’s not working out, it’s okay to make the call and give them up.

If you’ve read the sister post to this one, you know that our last placement was short and not-terribly sweet. I struggled with coming to my limits and desperately needing to give them back. I felt like a failure, a horrible foster mom, and an utter fraud. I figured if we couldn’t keep these kids, who seemed on paper a perfect fit for us and us for them, then surely no one else could either. I was simultaneously prideful and completely ashamed of myself- a very weird place indeed to be.

I think I had unwittingly fallen into the slightly martyr-like mindset that many foster families do. We are doing great work. We have a worthy and admirable ministry going on. It’s usually rough, it’s always hard. And I fell into a trap of pride within the struggle. Once that decision to take them was made, we put our heads down, our noses to the grindstone, and we were gonna keep them until the end… come hell or high water. We were committed. In it for the long run. Ready to bear these little burdens until someone took them off our backs.

I just never thought I’d be the one to ask to have them taken off.

The best piece of advice a fellow foster-mom told me was that it’s okay to say ‘uncle.’ For my sanity, the sake of my marriage, the health and welfare of the other children we had… I needed to see the situation for what it was- which was not working or at least not working well- and make the call.

It wasn’t failure- it was honest. I wasn’t a fraud- I was human.

I really, really needed to hear that. Maybe you will too someday. If it’s not working, for whatever reason, it’s okay to make that call.

I hope these thoughts are ones that help release you (if needed) from so much of the emotional gravity that fostering holds. I needed to learn them for my heart and head and I’m so happy that we had people who had gone before to lead us down these paths. If you are a foster parent, I’d love to hear your comments on these or others you’d suggest- be sure to comment below!

Be blessed!

Links in the Chain- How the ChainBreaker Can Also Be the ChainMaker

It’s been 3 weeks now since we gave up two of our foster sons to another family, and it’s time to finally write about it. It’s been a particularly hard blog to get my head around because there’s just so much I want to say- and I haven’t really been able to figure out how to say it. There’s so much we learned about fostering in general, but there’s even more I learned from a spiritual perspective. Even just now sitting here, I think there’s too much to write all in one blog- so….. welcome to part 1. Ha! (Enjoying my real-time writing decisions yet?)

Anyhoo, yes. Let’s dive into how 2019 started for us and what God has taught our family (and me especially) through this crazy-fostering-thing we’re called to. But to start, I need to give you some background so bear with me for just a bit.

Six days before Christmas I got a call from DFS asking us to take two brothers, a 7-year old with Down Syndrome (yes!) and his little brother who was 5. I felt a little leap in my spirit that usually doesn’t happen when we get calls. I immediately called Gabe at work and told him “I want these boys.” Much to my surprise and his credit- he told me we could pray about it. Now, for those who don’t know, timing is everything when you get a new placement. Often these poor children are literally sitting in the office of the case worker who is desperately trying to find them a family as soon as possible. So minutes are precious… hours are long, days are almost unheard of.

We had just hours to decide.

Imagine trying to weigh taking in two new children (to add to our other 4), one with Down Syndrome (to add to our other two with special needs)- not knowing their story, not knowing their behavior, their needs, how long we’ll have them (the average time spent in foster homes in MO is around 18 months), how it’ll affect not only short term but long-term plans, etc. etc. etc. It’s no small thing to decide upon… prayer is literally all you can do sometimes.

After an afternoon of talking extensively and praying, we decided (with much trepidation and convinced we were crazy) to take them. I called the worker only to find out they had just been placed with another family. Okay God- that settled that.

Fast forward 3 weeks.

My phone rang- another placement call I thought. It was. But not just any- it was for these two boys again. Apparently it wasn’t working out with the family they were placed with. I called Gabe again to see what he wanted to do. God love that man! He immediately noted that God had put them in our path a second time- basically how could we say no? Hours passed… we prayed again…. we talked again… we questioned our sanity again… and ultimately we said yes…. again.

Taking these kiddos was going to drastically change our life. Schedules, meals, outings, vacations, school pick-up and drop-off… almost every facet was going to be altered in some way. After all it’s no small thing to have six kids that young- with that many medical and developmental needs. But, clearly God had asked us to take them- so there was no going back now. Our hearts and minds were set and even among the crazy-factor we felt totally at peace with the decision.

Until five weeks later on a Saturday morning when I found myself sick, frustrated, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, bawling on the floor of my bathroom- crying out to God, quietly and rather ashamedly asking Him to release us from the boys. This was the opposite of peace. I couldn’t do it anymore- no, we as a couple couldn’t handle it, our family-unit couldn’t maintain the current status quo. God I just can’t anymore, I tried, I failed, forgive me but please release us I found myself quietly sobbing to Him.

Please know that these boys were (are!) precious. They were not bad boys. But they were hard. They had been neglected so badly that many normal rules of behavior and conduct were completely foreign to them. Their medical needs had been met marginally at best. The boy with Down Syndrome was non-verbal, a wanderer, and didn’t sleep. They had never spent longer than a few months in any one school due to being moved around so they were hopelessly behind academically. And, truth be told, as previously noted, six kids is a lot. In this case, it was too many. Not one was getting the time and attention they needed or deserved. Both Gabe and I were walking zombies from lack of sleep and trying to keep up with the <very> special needs of our three designer-gened kiddos. It was just too much. Despite our church, the school (their teachers were amazing!!), our family and friends- it was just beyond what we could handle.

And I HATED the feeling of failure… and being yet another family to pass them along.

Yes, that Saturday my heart broke. Panicking for some wisdom, I flipped through my phone for someone, anyone who could offer me not only a sympathetic ear but some sage advice. Keep them despite the situation? Let them go and step out of God’s will? Something felt off, wrong, no peace could be found and that was alarming. So. Many. Questions.

I scrolled past family, I scrolled past best friends, I scrolled past regular friends… and landed on a lady who I’ve actually never met in person, but who has become a good online friend and fellow writer. Out of nowhere I texted her to see if we could chat. She immediately responded, I called, and long story short- through her words God released us from these precious boys. It turned out, she and her husband had fostered from a long time (who knew?? GOD knew…) and they had been in a very similar situation (whaat?!?) Her words of wisdom and experience washed over me like a cool balm to my agitated nerves. I indeed felt released. I felt God had stirred my soul, perhaps even cause my illness in order to bring us to a point of surrender. Chances are, we would have missed Him in the mess of following Him so we needed an intervention. We had put our heads so far down to walk this path that I think we forgot to keep seeking Him.

The rest of that afternoon God put countless people in our path through ‘random’ phone calls and texts that both assured and encouraged us that we weren’t stepping out of His will for us and that His plan was still being accomplished.

At this point I need to digress to a parallel story for a second. Rewind to only three days after we originally took the boys in. Gabe and I went to a marriage retreat and had to put the boys into respite. We had a hard time finding someone on such short notice to take them, especially with the special needs child. Finally their case-worker found a family, we dropped them off and three days later picked them back up. As I was loading them into the car, a seemingly passing conversation would turn into a vital link in this crazy chain. The lady told me that her daughter, who is a teacher is a nearby school district, had come to visit her during this respite and was pleasantly surprised to run into the two boys, both of whom she knew from school last semester. The daughter told her mom she was so relieved to hear they were in foster care and she couldn’t wait to tell the other teachers that they were safe- apparently the entire school had been super worried about them (knowing their living situation) and after they just didn’t come back to school one-day… well….. the questions and worries abounded. Especially for the older one’s special ed teacher, (we’ll call him Mr. Smith) who was particularly fond of the boy. The lady told me that Mr. Smith wanted to let us know that if the boys were ever to come up for adoption and we couldn’t or wouldn’t take them, that he and his wife would be interested.

Okay, so back to the main plot- fast forward now to the Saturday of woe (let’s call it D-day at the Douglas’s) around six that evening I get a random text from an unknown number. This is Jane Smith, my husband Mr. Smith used to be _____’s special ed teacher. We heard you may need to find another placement for them. Do you think we could have them? Who do we need to call?

Mic drop… or phone drop in this case.

This family, who we later found out had wanted these boys for years, who had been praying about adopting them, who knew their backstory and their needs, who God had been perfectly situating to take them in- called US to ask if they could take them. I’m telling you you can’t make this stuff up. It’s GodStuff! He was making links, laying the framework for this pairing, for months if not years.

Released from that duty, with the futures of these dear boys firmly and supernaturally taken care of, you’d think all’s well that ends well. Except I took the break in events to take a deep breath and get…. frustrated…

What was the point? Why, after five weeks of complete and utter life disruption, would You take them away now? I don’t get it God. Did we mishear you to begin with? Were we never supposed to take them at all? Why such a short time? Did we do something wrong? What was the POINT of it all? Questions and frustrations swirled. I was grateful, but (like all good {ex}flight-nurses…) I needed to debrief and figure out what went wrong.

It turns out… nothing did. it all went right.

Because what I learned, what God allowed me to see as He graciously pulled back the curtain just a bit on His plans, is that He doesn’t just break chains without providing new chains of protection.

What I learned is that as God was breaking the chains of their little lives of abuse, drugs, living in tents, hunger, thirst, and chronic neglect- He was also remaking chains of protection, love, safety, and security.

I learned that with each link broken from the old life, He was linking a new chain for their new life. The last day they saw their mom, nobody knowing whether it would be their last visit or not to see her… was also the same time that God was preparing their new, forever family to take them in. The last time they got to see their ‘new’ teachers in our school district (again, nobody knowing it would be their last parting) would make a link to go home to be with their new dad (who, incidentally, was the older boy’s special ed teacher!… because GodStuff).

What I’ve learned is that the God of closed doors and opened windows is also the God of ChainBreaking and ChainMaking. He never takes without replacing with something better.

The links to their old lives obliterated made way for the links to their new lives forged.

What I learned is that we, in that seemingly short time, were a link or two in their new chain. We were there for several of the breaking of the links in their old chains; we provided hugs and cuddles and explanations and prayers for bewildered and hurting little hearts. We were the link that got them to their forever family. Our family and friends who loved them, provided meals for us, watched them, asked about them, prayed for them each helped build new links in their new life. His teachers, their school, our neighbors, their case workers, our church- everyone who took an extra minute to acknowledge them, love them, pour into them, care about their welfare- in short, everyone who stepped out to be Jesus’ hands- forged a link in their new chain. (And to all of you special people who may be reading this… thank you… from the bottom of our hearts and on behalf of two very special boys- what you did, no matter how large or small- made a difference.)

So…. there it is. And just like that, though our part was small and just the very beginning of a new chain, our links were important. Just as everyone’s is.

Dear ones, my dear, dear friends. We are all links in God’s great chains. He’s breaking chains and making chains with US. We ARE the links. From the earthly temporal straight up to the heavenly eternal, God’s doing His thing bridging the vast chasm from death to life. Take note today of who’s life you are a vital God link in. Find the people you’re supposed to be linking towards God. Find the people Christ is using to help break their old and making their new. Be the chainbreaker and chainmaker in the Father’s hands.

Be obedient. Be brave.

Be their link.

Read Part 2 of this blog here

The Joshua Series- GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I'm excited to start a new series with lessons found in the book of Joshua. The Lord has been walking with me through the early books of the Old Testament for the last year and I'm finally at a place that I can share all the insights God's been showing me. Join us weekly for some real, raw, open and honest this-is-where-I'm-at-right-now GodStuff. I pray it blesses you as it has me. ~Bethany

Recently my husband and I took in two new foster children. The Lord led us to fostering, quite unexpectedly, last year and for many months we've had just an infant with us. Last month though He asked us to take in two more, one with special needs. We prayed over them, we talked at length about the pros and cons, we took as much time as we could to decide. Because in this case, taking in these two would give us a total of six children, three of which have special needs, all of which are under 7. Yikes. I'm sure you can appreciate our trepidation at such a prospect.

Yet, God made it abundantly clear to us that we needed to take in these young boys. So we agreed with great expectations and not a few hesitations.

We're a month into our new season with these kiddos and let me just say in all honesty and that its been hard. I mean capitol H A R D hard. I've found myself stretched to the max daily, hourly, minute by minute at times. Going to bed so many nights questioning if we've done the right thing. Waking up exhausted every morning not knowing how I'm going to make it through the day. I've found myself questioning if we made the right call, questioning our sanity, questioning my ability to continue on. I've grieved the loss of time with my own kids and time with my husband. I've missed meetings, missed church, and had to pull out of other ministries that I adored. Yes, it's been a radical life change to say the least.

I don't like it.

I don't enjoy it.

I don't even 'want' it at times.

And yet, even in the midst of the chaos I know that I'm sitting (or more realistically, splayed out) right where I'm supposed to be. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I'm being obedient.

In all honesty, I'm not that foster mom that's dreamed of doing this all her life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad and there are definitely glimpses of awesomesness here and there. I for sure don’t hate this season. But I'm not that foster parent that has the proverbial huge heart for these kids. I foster because it's a ministry that God called us into and one that is worthy to be doing. I do it because it's Biblical and the right thing to do. I do it because I can't say no to my almighty Father- even when I want to- even when the ministry is not only not 'right down my alley' but quite frankly at times is not even in the same city!

This obedience-thing is not for the faint of heart! And it’s H A R D work.

Yet, my Father is good, even moreso in my vast weaknesses. He has me in Joshua right now and the encouragement I've found even within the first chapter has brought me more than once to tears. (It's like He knew!)

"Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouths. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:8-9 NIV

So where I am at with all this you may ask?

What I'm learning is that when God told Joshua over and over to be strong and courageous, He wasn't at all referring to taking the Promised Land. Jehovah was telling him to be strong and courageous in his obedience to Him. He was instructing Israel to be resolute, obstinate even, in their obedience.

Regardless of the outcome. Regardless of the scenery on the other side of that leap of faith.

Regardless of whether it makes my own life more pleasant or easy.

I'm learning slowly but surely that oftentimes 'ministry' that God calls us to doesn't necessarily come with the assumed great expectations of obedience that we all want. We assume that our obedience to Him will result in happier times, contentment, provision, or greener pastures.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Our saying yes to God and these boys certainly hasn't made our highways and byways clearer. In fact it's significantly impacted all of them. And yet, I'd venture to say that it's made their little pathways more manageable.

I'm learning is that my obedience is the only thing I can control. The rest is up to God: the provision for each day, the strength to continue on, the sanity to push forward, and even the wherewithal to choose to obey again...

and again... and again.

What I'm learning is that despite the seemingly extreme 'inconvenience' of this ministry God has placed on us, the idea of being outside His will and His way is far more terrifying. This season may not be one we would have chosen, it has not been ideal by any stretch, we can only hope and pray that it gets easier... but my expectations of my 'yes' are secondary to the work God has for me.

And suddenly the tables are turned. What great expectations I had placed on Him, are now turned and seen through His eyes upon me. His expectations for me must be quite grand to entrust some of His precious children to us for a time.

It turns out, I've learned I had this entire thing backward the whole time.

Dear ones, view whatever ministries God has called you to- easy, hard, good, bad, or ugly- as opportunities to step up in obedience and meet our Father's great expectations of you. It is no small thing to place you where He did with the treasured people and work He's entrusted you with.

You have your Father's great expectations upon you this day- be strong and courageous, be not discouraged!


Finding God In... FOSTERING

Dear ones, we're about half-way through this amazing series. I hope you have been greatly encouraged by the testimonies of those who have shared part of their stories with you. As a slight reprieve, I want to feature a post this week about fostering. Gabe and I are foster parents and we met this amazing lady when she taught our licensing classes. I would in no way categorize fostering as a 'dry-season' or a dark place... however most of the children that we get to love on and bring into our families are in extremely dark places (or have been in the past.) What they have been through is no joke (as you saw with Lizzie and her post last week.) But God is, of course, in this whole process as well. And I am pleased and privileged to have my friend Dana share a bit of her family's journey.

 

The ONE.

Foster Parenting is not something I grew up dreaming of doing. In fact, it only came as a result of a really tough personal season of “laying it A.L.L. down”. Growing up, I always knew I would be in ministry, and for many years I was sure I would be a missionary to the nations, touching hundreds of lives. And for a season I did just that. Until God me into something unexpected. He called me to the ONE.

Through a season of unplanned detours, both career-wise and heart-wise, my husband and I ended up putting down roots in Missouri in the summer of ‘07. We moved with a specific passion and goal in mind: to foster teenagers. And not just any teenagers, but those with severe emotional challenges suffering from the effects of unspeakable trauma. In short, God has called us to parent those who are facing their last chance to have family. When children experience abuse and neglect at the hands of those who are tasked with protecting and providing for them, it wreaks havoc on their mind and emotions. Couple that with the often-traumatic experience of being brought into foster care and shuffled from home to home, our young people learn quickly they cannot trust a single soul except for themselves. Many of the teens who come to us have not really been parented at all. No curfews. No respect. No good night kisses. No boundaries. No peace. No soccer games. No safety. Just Fight Flight and Freeze in FULL operation mode. Cue the challenging behavior.

This can all get very overwhelming, to say the least. My husband and I often feel inadequate, worn out and ill prepared to handle the tremendous brokenness that meets us at our door every time a new young person moves in. Until I remember the ONE. There is something about Jesus’ story of the 99 that is both life giving and perplexing. The fact that Jesus would leave the 99, to find the ONE, speaks volumes to me on a daily basis about what we do in our home. In all honesty, my family could use our resources elsewhere and probably touch and encourage many many more than we do today = the 99. But instead, He asks for my focus to be on the ONE. The ONE. When I let myself think about how powerful that is, I am stirred deep within at the honor it is that He allows us to have access to the ONE.

The ONE who spent her entire life being sexually abused by a step parent who was supposed to love and protect her. The ONE who was passed off to a local pimp at 11 years old because her “mom” was done raising her. The ONE whose step dad murdered her mom – who instantly became an orphan. The ONE whose parents consistently chose their addiction over their own child over and over and over again. The ONE has a face, a name, a story, a soul and a purpose. The ONE was fashioned by the Creator in her mother’s womb and He has not abandoned His desire for her despite the hell she has endured. The ONE is called. The ONE has a destiny. The ONE can and will be redeemed. This is why we foster. For the ONE.

 

To find out more about the amazing ministry that Dana and her family have, please check out their website www.dogwoodranch.org